The longstanding American traditions of aimless wandering & lazy self-indulgence owe a huge debt to Ralph “Waldo” Emerson and his pal Henry (aka David) Thoreau, two ugly, bearded, tax-dodgers from Massachusetts, whose scribblings were reprinted periodically since they were found in the woods in the mid-19th Century, much to the embarrassment of their families, who wished they would have shaved their beards, come out of the woods, and become dentists like the rest of their families.
Ralph & Henry were the bestest of best friends, and they loved to go out into the forest and build little shacks and lean-to’s where they could ramble out loud (and often in their diaries) about their contempt for meat, society, government, taxes, haircuts, and how their families always pushed them to become dentists, to the point of obsession (something they ridiculed as if it were some kind of religion they liked to jokingly call “dentalism”) and they practically dedicated their lives to transcend this notion.
These two would sit for hours around little campfires, making up silly little poems that didn’t rhyme very well, and writing at length about the most mind-numbing variety of leaves and flowers that you can possibly imagine. Henry often made fun of Ralph’s ease at getting himself lost, until one night Henry accidentally set 300 acres of the woods on fire, after which his ridicule ceased, at least for a while. The two developed a deep respect for one another and their respective accomplishments (which was of great value to each of them, as nobody else did).
Henry Thoreau (born David, a name he despised, and insisted on being called Henry) was unusually rebellious in his youth, with a contempt for authority and government, and as evident through most of his diaries, this was a phase he never grew out of. Even into his thirties, he was still going on about it. He was born and raised along the ocean in California, and often referred to himself as a “Pacifist” because of this, as a way of separating himself from the schoolmates who picked on him back east.His family name of Thoreau inspired him from an early age to view everything in great detail, and he spent much of his childhood studying while all the other children were playing outside. After his family moved to Concord, Massachusetts to run a grape juice farm, he was a social outcast among his peers, was very self-conscious about his unusually large nose, and would often retreat into the wilderness when bullied. It was on one such occasion that he met Ralph, who had been wandering aimlessly around a muddy little swamp they referred to as Walden “pond,” which became a favorite spot to which they often returned.
Ralph Emerson (jokingly called “Waldo” by cruel schoolmates) was known for his haphazard ways, his distinctive striped stocking cap, and his complete lack of any sense of direction. Sadly, he never realized that his faulty ideas of self-reliance were his greatest weakness, and it was often said that, without his friendship with Henry, that Ralph would have lost his way in the woods, and met his death walking in circles. It is said that Henry would spend hours, even days, searching for him, shouting for him in the forest, something that he would become quite accustomed to in later years.
The two friends often returned to what was left of those swampy woods, and eventually started trying to spread the word about it in hopes that people wouldn’t burn the rest of it down and build condos. But on one such venture, Ralph wandered off by himself, and Henry spent days on end looking for him. Against his better judgement, he went back to the town to plead for help locating his pal, and several of his former schoolmates reluctantly agreed to help, posting signs, and shouting out to him in the forest. Until his dying day, Henry would look for that ridiculous striped stocking cap in every passing crowd of people, shouting “Where’s Ralph Waldo Emerson?” – a tradition that eventually evolved into a series of children’s books that far exceeded the popularity and literary appeal of Ralph & Henry’s journals, which are, amazingly, still sporadically reprinted to this day. Their “transcend-dentalist” philosophy reached new cultural relevance in the 1960s, when their work began to be re-circulated among restless youth, who rejected their parents’ plans for them to become dentists and used car salesmen, in favor of growing long beards and running around in the woods avoiding doing anything useful.
Eventually someone drained that swamp and built an amusement park there, but just like Ralph & Henry’s diaries, it wasn’t very entertaining, so it went out of business. The swamp has since been drained and made into a nature-themed swimming resort, mockingly named “Walden Pond” as Henry once called it, and though it’s not very popular, singer Don Henley is said to have skinny-dipping parties there with a modest gathering of other B-list celebrities and has-beens, which has so far kept it in business.
Ralph “Waldo” Emerson’s descendants went on to start a company that made electronics with the same haphazard, shoddy sense of quality that their family patriarch spent his whole life exemplifying.